Just shy of ten years after miraculously surviving the collapse of 1 World Trade Center on September 11, Josephine Harris was found dead in her Brooklyn home last week.
The story of her improbable rescue by New York City firefighters was among the most enduring to emanate from the horror of Sept. 11, 2001. It was told and retold: how a weary woman, Josephine Harris, was coaxed and carried to safety by six men from Ladder Company 6 in Chinatown who had rushed to the World Trade Center that morning.
It was a feat of timing, engineering and plain luck that when the rush of wind and noise came and the north tower fell away, the firefighters and Ms. Harris were not crushed in a sea of concrete, dust and steel as they were spread along the stairwell between the fourth and first floors. Rather, the building fell around them.
As Deputy Chief John A. Jonas explained, unlike the south tower, which leaned and toppled over, “ours peeled away like a banana.”
“And we were the banana,” he added. “We were at the bottom.”
It was so happy a story that the only disagreement seemed to arise over who had saved whom. Had the firefighters, led by Chief Jonas — he was then a captain — survived because they paused to help Ms. Harris, a bookkeeper for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as they rushed to leave the north tower? Or had Ms. Harris, whose legs were weakened by fatigue, been lucky enough to live because of them?
Chief Jonas spoke on Saturday. On Wednesday, members of the Fire Department — this time, the Emergency Medical Service — again rushed to help Ms. Harris, after being summoned to her apartment on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn by a 911 call at 2:20 a.m.
Ms. Harris, 69, was unconscious when they arrived, and they had to force open the door. “They did CPR, and worked on her for some time,” a Fire Department official said. But she was pronounced dead, apparently after a heart attack.
News of Ms. Harris’s death arrived at Ladder 6 by a telephone call from her sister, Thelma Johnson.
“I kind of had the same feeling as if a relative had died,” Chief Jonas said. “Right away you start thinking about all the things you’d gone through. It was a cloak of sadness, and it is still there. With the 10-year anniversary coming up, it’s going to be a little different without her.”
“You cannot say that something that happened to you is a miracle,” Chief Jonas said. “But we had the courage to do what we did, and you can say that if she was not there for us to save her, we probably would not have made it.”
“We had a very unique, shared experience that not many people on this earth can say they’ve had,” he added. “We survived that terrible day together, and we felt close to her and tried to include her in as many things as we could.”
We hope Ms. Harris spent the last ten years of her life surrounded by family that cherished the extra time she was given.